August 14, 2005 at 11:05 am #48340
Back From Extinction
After a 17-year break fueled by bad blood, Dinosaur Jr. is touring again
By MIKE KALIL
Massachusetts trio Dinosaur Jr. started out 23 years ago as just another hard-core punk band, screaming short, thrashing songs.
But guitarist and songwriter J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Emmett Jefferson "Murph" Murphy III soon stumbled onto a new sound combining shards of feedback with Neil Young-style guitar riffs rife with melody.
Supplemented by bone-crushing volume and Mascis’ laconic, nasal whine, the group sold out clubs by sounding like a nerdy heavy metal band playing classic rock songs with occasional noise freak-outs.
But after cutting a couple of albums now considered alt-rock classics, the original trio disbanded in one of the ugliest rock band firings ever.
"They came over to my house and … told me that the band had broken up and they left," bassist Barlow says. "I made a few phone calls, and I found out shortly after that that they were planning a tour of Australia. I went out and found out where they were and just (expletive) screamed at them for about an hour."
While Mascis continued recording under the Dinosaur Jr. name, an angry Barlow went on to lead his own band, Sebadoh, and scored the radio hit "Natural One" with side project the Folk Implosion.
The deceitful way he was dismissed from the band was a wound that took 17 years to heal. Barlow and Mascis joined up with Murphy earlier this year.
Barlow acknowledges that Dinosaur Jr.’s reunion tour, which comes to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Saturday, wouldn’t have happened without much encouragement from people around them who remained unsettled by how the band split.
"There was a combination of circumstances that was inexplicably drawing us together, like this is going to happen, everybody wants it to happen — my mom, all of our friends," Barlow says. "We have a lot of people all around us who are a little more socially gifted than we are."
On the tour, the reformed trio is only performing songs from the three albums they recorded together, including their bizarre, post-hard-core cover of the Cure’s "Just Like Heaven."
Much of the set features songs from the band’s masterpiece, "You’re Living All Over Me," the 1987 album that firmly established Dino as one of the most important bands of the ’80s American underground.
Tracks on it like "Little Fury Things" and "In a Jar" explode with raw power from Mascis’ guitar, barely reined in by the smart song structures.
"The songs were really, really well constructed so they shine through the noise," Barlow says.
"To use a totally obvious metaphor, they’re like a really great car or something. J just built these great songs that run on great beats. He just really had a vision."
Among the fans of that vision was Kurt Cobain, who acknowledged cribbing from Dinosaur Jr. in crafting Nirvana’s electrifying sound.
It’s strange now to Barlow that his old band’s short-lived, mid-’80s heyday proved so influential to alternative rockers. It’s even more shocking considering how much more polished and polite the rock scene is now compared to the one wherein Barlow and company learned their chops.
"It was assumed from the very beginning that you’re not in a band to get up there and shake your ass and play solos for people and tell everybody how great you are. It was just keep your mouth shut, bear down and play as aggressively as possible and that’s it. That was the scene," he says.
"Getting up there and smiling and jamming away and going, ‘Hey, man, that was an excellent practice’ … nobody did that. That was so profoundly not in our character.
"It was about people completely renouncing anything that had any show-business to it at all. Everything was about just kind of moping around and complaining about (expletive) and just being outcasts."
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